Abortion rights have never been a real-life personal dilemma for me; I am pro-choice philosophically, but have no life experiences with which to support my position.
Practically speaking, banning a procedure that's been performed since there were women is only going to force it underground, which will get a lot of women hurt or killed. (We can learn from the experience of Mexico, where back-alley abortions were the 4th or 5th leading cause of womens' deaths only a couple of years ago.)Philosophically, since we don't have state-mandated religion in this country, I don't see how legislators can be allowed to answer the metaphysical question “When does conscious life begin?”
The pro-choice position is nothing less than a defense of our freedom from the beginnings of state-run religion.
If we listen to the Pope, life begins the minute that there is a possibility of conception. If we listen to science, life begins later - much later. Our laws regulating later-term abortions tend to reflect our uneasy consensus that the truth is really somewhere in between.
There was a lot of talk this past election season about some pro-life Republican/Tea Party candidates’ “extreme” pro-life positions. The fact that we're even discussing this shows that many of us who are “pro-choice” don't even speak the same language as the hard-core “pro-life” crowd.
For many years, conservative candidates courting the Religious Right vote have professed to be “pro-life” but have also stated that they would preserve abortion availability for rape or incest victims who become pregnant as a result of being violated. Those who would bar abortion in all circumstances were labeled as “extreme", even by the mainstream Right.
But now the Right is freed by the Tea Party (in their minds anyway) of the need to be mainstream, to appeal to centrist voters. This is their time to purify their official positions. And any purification of a pro-life position will naturally tend towards what we view as the "extreme" policy - banning all abortion at all times.These candidates are catering to supporters who believe that there is no such thing as a moral "choice" about abortion. The pro-life position is about moral absolutes and moral certainty. To a committed hard-line pro-life activist, abortion is not and never can be a “choice”. To a strict pro-lifer, a person who has an abortion is roughly the moral equivalent of a person who takes a Saturday Night Special and blows a child's brains out.
And actually, the extreme position in this instance is the position that makes consistent logical sense. If you believe that abortion is baby murder, how much baby murder is going to be OK with you?
A visceral, black-and-white position - "Horrific mass murder of adorable babies is wrong!" - is likely to generate more ardent support than a cerebral, once-removed pro-choice argument - "It's my right to manage my own body, even though I'd never have an abortion personally..."
That's why you see pro-life activists willing to be arrested, willing to commit murder and unwavering in their committment to their issue, making all of their voting choices based on that one factor. I can't tell you how many people here in West Texas I've talked to who grasp that Republican economic policy doesn't benefit them, but who would never vote for a "baby killer" candidate. Ever. No matter what else was on the table.
Unless we pro-choicers can fully understand the other side of the abortion debate and can begin to articulate our position in a way that people will passionately care about, the vocal minority of voters who are purist pro-lifers will continue to dominate our campaign debates and impact our policy with their agenda.
After all, for most pro-choicers, abortion rights is a matter of principle. For pro-lifers, it's literally life and death.